Girls from kindergarten through 12th grade flock to Camp Bette Perot, the largest Girl Scout camp in Northeast Texas, to experience the outdoors.
Upon completing an outing at the camp, a 14-year-old girl said, “Because of Girl Scouts, I believe in myself more and have more confidence to follow my dreams.”
A camp counselor said, “It’s amazing how the girls’ confidence grows during the week. They all start out timid, but at the end of the week are brave enough to complete the challenge course.”
Girl Scouts from 32 counties descend on the 1,280-acre facility, 15 miles north of Palestine, off Texas Highway 19.
“Girls who camp out here are from all over,” Ashley Barr, director of programs for Girl Scouts of Northeast Texas, said.
A 13-year-old camper said, “I’ve learned that you can connect with people if you try, even if they are different.”
A 9-year-old camper said, “I learned that you shouldn’t let being scared of something hold you back from doing it. Go for it.”
Serving more than 10,000 people each year, Camp Bette Perot is on property donated by businessman Ross Perot in honor of his sister, Bette Perot, a lifetime Girl Scout. The Perots also donated money for many of the facilities.
Three original units built in the 1980s consist of five cabins — four for girls and one for adult leaders — with each cabin holding eight people. There is a latrine and a shelter with a kitchen and place for crafts.
Next, the air-conditioned Laird West was built, Cindy Brownlow, camp director, said.
“It’s an all-inclusive building. There are two wings and in the center is a commons room for tables and bathrooms. We use it for the littlest campers,” she said.
Then a unit of eight tents, with each tent sheltering four persons, was constructed, Ms. Brownlow said.
A ropes challenge course has low ropes and a course with elements about 30 feet in the air. The low course takes three hours to complete, while the high course takes six hours and includes a zip line, climbing wall and rappel wall.
The ropes courses “encompass all braveness levels as well as fitness levels,” Ms. Brownlow said.
Palomino Lodge is a log cabin with one big room, two small offices and a restroom. It is used for check-in and administration. Mustang Lodge is used as a crafts house and staff house.
The air-conditioned tree house consists of five cabins, connected by walkways and bridges, sitting on stilts about eight to 10 feet above ground.
The newest structure is the $1.2 million Bette Perot Aquatic Center, donated by the Perots. The complex includes a lighted 5,723-square-foot, L-shaped pool, main building and screened-in pavilion.
The old swimming pool was filled with dirt and sand to turn it into a beach for volleyball and activities.
Girls attend sessions based on their interests, such as swimming, ropes, science and archery. They earn Girl Scout badges in different topics.
“We do a lot of STEM sessions during the fall and spring –— science, technology, engineering and math,” Ms. Brownlow said.
A water-works session features experiments with pool, tap and rain water, she said. Another session features veterinarians teaching girls.
In the Camp’s a Blast session, campers study how compounds interact to cause a chemical reaction and blow up rockets.
In the detective session, Camp Secret Agent, campers examine clues at a crime scene to determine who did the crime and earn a detective badge.
In the Camp Survivor session, scouts backpack into the woods on horses. They take food and stay overnight.
In a Butterfly session, girls watch larvae hatch and become a caterpillar and then a butterfly.
A large equestrian center houses a progressive program.
“The barn was built in the early ’80s and we’ve definitely outgrown our barn. As we outgrew it, we needed more horses and more space so we (built) two wings that hold horses in each wing. We built a covered area out back. We have 65 horses,” Ms. Brownlow said.
Ms. Barr said there are horses that girls at all age levels can ride.
“We have older horses that 7- and 8-year-old girls can get on to go on a trail ride for their first horse experience, and then we have the Tejas Riders Program where girls in the leadership equestrian program can do rodeo and barrel racing. It runs the gamut.” Ms. Barr said
In the arena, staff members give girls in kindergarten and first grade a one-on-one experience of being led on a pony, Ms. Brownlow said. Girls in second grade go on an hourlong ride and older girls can earn a badge for taking an daylong ride and learning about care of horses.
“In the fall and spring, for troop and fellowship camping on the weekend, we typically ride 130 kids. During summer camp, it differs. They all ride at least once during the week, but riding units ride every day,” Ms. Brownlow said.
“Two of our big goals for girls at summer camp or camp year-round are that they see challenges and develop,” Ms. Barr said. “We see that in the equestrian program a lot where a girl has never done this before and is scared. You see development, trying to do something never done and they develop confidence.”
The camp has an archery program and is constructing a second archery range.
“Besides archery, we have a pretty good nature program,” Ms. Brownlow said. Katy Hammon Bog, which has an elevated walkway, was recently refurbished. It is named for a longtime volunteer who did much of the labor. Luminant Mining Co. donated carnivorous pitcher plants.
The camp also operates programs for soccer and stargazing, using a telescope. Girls experience four campfires during their week at summer camp.
During summer camp, there are 172 girls, but the camp can have 286 during the fall and spring.
The fee for a week is $375.
“We are able to keep our camp at a reasonable price,” Ms. Barr said, comparing it to an approximately $3,500 fee at a for-profit camp. Camp Bette Perot is supported by the Girl Scout cookie sale program and the community, corporations and individuals.
“Girls come here to camp out. They come for friendship and camaraderie. They come to work on badges. They come to get out of the city and enjoy nature. They come for a first-time experience of the outdoors,” Ms. Brownlow said.